Dec 10, 2013

Obamacare Website on Agenda at Austin Technology Summit

By Reihaneh Hajibeigi
For Reporting Texas

The massive problems with the Obamacare website may have given health care information technology a bad name for now. But its proponents say information technology is transforming the health care industry with advances in electronic medical records and data analytics to reduce costs and improve the quality and efficiency of patient care. And Obama administration missteps provide an example of what to avoid as the process speeds forward.

“We are transforming the way we do everything in the health care world, including the ability to analyze data in ways we never dreamed before,” said Andrew Boyd, a professor of biomedical and health information sciences at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He also is a speaker at a regional summit on health care information technology Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin.

Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the Obamacare website, is a keynote speaker. Sivak was traveling and not available for comment, an agency spokesperson said. But he will address the website problems, said Matthew Raynor, senior vice president for strategic accounts at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, the conference organizer.

The event will bring together more than 200 health care professionals, including hospital administrators, chief information officers, physicians, academics, consultants and vendors, to share problems and solutions.

Jay Ferro, a summit speaker and CIO of the American Cancer Society, said all organizations have encountered the issues surrounding the Obamacare website, and can learn from its problems.

“From the ACS perspective, anything that allows access to life-saving cures or treatments is something great. That said, from an IT perspective, the execution problems of Obamacare had multiple challenges because of subpar testing, incomplete requirements and terrible testing,” Ferro said. “Even though this is a government-implemented plan, this is something all organizations have dealt with.”

The website experienced multiple malfunctions starting on its Oct. 1 launch, and only 27,000 people, including 2,991 in Texas, had signed up through the site in the first month. Congress demanded explanations from HHS officials and the IT firms that designed the website, and it took a task force six weeks to fix most of the problems. On Dec. 1, the White House said the site was working 90 percent of the time for consumers. Work remains to guarantee that insurers receive complete information on new signups.

“In order to be successful in ventures like this, the organization has to test the plan like crazy, then go into production,” Ferro said. “Be prepared to support it, and with some of the best minds in the business at this conference, there will be a big and exciting exchange of knowledge.”

The conference agenda includes speakers and interactive panels on topics such as the growth of electronic medical records, which put all of a patient’s health history and treatment information in a single digital file. That allows doctors and other health care professionals to easily share patient information and eliminate the delays and errors that paper records can cause.

These electronic records also enable the collection and analysis of patient data to reveal health care trends, which can lead to improved care.

“As electronic health records continue to become popular, we can look to save costs, improve clinical outcomes and be more efficient with patient care,” Boyd said. “We are literally digitizing health care.”